You remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, right? I dearly recall a dog-eared cardboard picture book of the childhood story. As a recap, Goldilocks is out walking in the forest (who let’s their little girl do that these days???) and comes upon an empty house. She roams through the house finding three of everything. From breakfast porridge to chairs and beds, she tests each one out. In each case, two are not for her and one is just right. In the end she wanders into the bedrooms and finds one bed too hard, one bed too soft, and finally the last bed just right. She falls asleep in the just right bed until the owners of the house come home and find her there.
Nurses working in the criminal justice system can fall into a ‘Goldilocks Syndrome’ of deciding which security rules are ‘just right’ for them. In the process, they put themselves and their colleagues in danger. Are you a Goldilocks correctional nurse? Here is how to find out.
Do you find some of the rules for your patients just too hard? During medication pass a quiet and compliant inmate steps up to the medication cart holding his head. He tells the nurse he has a really bad headache. Could you give him some aspirin? Aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen are available in the inmate commissary and the rule is to direct the patient to purchase OTC medication from there. That seems too harsh to this nurse so she locates some stock acetaminophen and provides him with two tablets. What would you do?
For some nurses, rules may seem too soft for the criminals in their care. A frequent flyer jail inmate is withdrawing from benzodiazepines and is having nausea and dry heaves. The nurse doing the withdrawal assessment could contact the provider for some nausea medication but decides not to. She thinks the withdrawal symptoms will be therapeutic in encouraging sobriety for this patient. What would you do?
The Goldilocks correctional nurse picks those security and medical rules that are just right to follow. Whether it is letting others know where you are headed when departing the unit, leaving cell phones locked in the car, or correctly counting narcotics at the end of the shift, some correctional nurses make their own decisions about which rules they should follow and which they needn’t bother with. What do you do?
Don’t Be a Goldilocks Correctional Nurse!
Following all the rules benefits you, your team mates, and your patients. Working in the criminal justice systems means walking a tightrope every day as we balance our nursing professional ethics with security requirements. Although we can, and should, question patient treatment when it appears inhuman or detrimental, we do not have the liberty to pick and choose which rules to follow and which are too hard or too soft for our liking. If you think you may have slipped into being a Goldilocks correctional nurse here are some ways to regroup.
- Pay attention to your rule following/rule breaking habit patterns. Consider your motivation in why you choose to follow some rules and not others.
- Seek out the reason for the rules you don’t like. Does that help you?
- If you don’t like the reason or the rule is detrimental in some way to your patient population, is there a way to work within the system to change it?
- Talk with your supervisor about any challenging rules you are required to follow.
- Remember that your patients are watching. If you are a rule breaker, some will take advantage of it. Check out this post about how some patients take advantage of staff who are too hard or too soft.
So, what do you think? Do you find yourself struggling to consistently apply all security rules to all your incarcerated patients? Do you see examples of Goldilocks correctional nursing among your colleagues? Share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.
* This concept comes from the book Correction Officer’s Guide to Understanding Inmates.